A community newspaper for the Jicarita watershed, including the
Rio Mora, Rio Santa Barbara, Rio de las Trampas, Rio Pueblo, & Rio Embudo
By Kay Matthews
Over the weekend of August 2-4, several of the parties who filed a lawsuit to stop the La Manga Timber Sale, including Forest Conservation Council and Forest Guardians, hosted a camp-out at the timber sale site in the Vallecitos Sustained Yield Unit. According to spokespersons for the groups, the purpose of the camp-out was to show the proposed timber sale to the public and discuss the issues regarding the future of the area. Over the course of the three days, the groups also sponsored workshops on tree sitting, nonviolence, mountain biking, and mushroom and bird identification. According to Sam Hitt of Forest Guardians, local area loggers, including members of La Companía Ocho, who are interveners in the La Manga lawsuit, claiming economic interests, were also invited to visit the camp to discuss the issues.
The norteños chose to stage their own gathering, however, and on Friday, hung Sam Hitt and John Talberth of Forest Conservation Council in effigy from trees along Forest Road 274, which leads to the timber sale. According to Ike DeVargas, of La Companía, the locals felt that the environmentalists' gathering was "provocative" and counter productive, as all the parties are still involved in legal negotiations over the sale (La Companía, in a settlement with the U.S. Forest Service, is guaranteed 75% of the sale once it is released).
La Jicarita visited the gathering on Saturday afternoon to interview the concerned parties. The dummies still hung from the trees, accompanied by numerous signs along the route: "It's not the owl, stupid, it's your way of life and culture that's at stake;" and "Enviro-maniacs are the dregs of the 1960-70s hippie movement . . . Go Home!" The norteños were camped alongside the road about a mile before the environmental sentries who manned the entrance to their gathering. People entering the environmentalists' site had to identify themselves, and were then given directions along the bumpy, rained-slicked road into the campsite.
When we arrived, small groups were already out hiking several of the timber sale cutting units. Approxi-mately sixty people were in attendance, including an activist group from San Luis, Colorado, called La Sierra.
Their representative, Praxedis Ortega, a native rancher and farmer, has been involved in that community's struggle to regain access and ownership of their former common lands in the Culebra Peak area of the Sangre de Cristos, now owned by the Taylor family (descendants of Zachary Taylor, former U.S. President) of North Carolina. The area is currently being logged by Stone Forest Industries, and according to Ortega, the logging activity is threatening the health of the watershed. Ortega and his friends from Colorado attended the New Mexico gathering because "we have to rescue the last of the ancient forests."
La Jicarita met up with Sam Hitt on a walk through the cutting unit. Hitt denied that the gathering was meant to be "provocative." When asked if there was any room for compromise with La Companía towards resolving the lawsuit, Hitt responded: "This stand of forest must be protected" and that La Companía's insistence on cutting a certain percentage of the large ponderosa pines in the sale was "culturally irresponsible."
La Jicarita asked if this might be an especially good time to make a concerted effort to form a coalition with the loggers, as the Forest Service is threatening to reduce the number of board feet that will be available to La Companía, and a united effort on the part of the environmentalists and loggers could result in a better management plan for future sales. Hitt responded that while he thought coalitions were important, in this instance there was too much cultural antagonism, too many differences in the levels of knowledge between the two groups, too much media overplay, and too much Forest Service involvement.
La Jicarita suggested that perhaps he and his groups were being "culturally irresponsible." The small, rural communities of northern New Mexico are the last bastion of defense against the suburbanization and urbanization of the area, and environmentalists and norteños must work together to ensure that these communities remain economically and culturally viable. While Hitt admitted that this was indeed a threat, he stated his hope that land use plans, like the one being developed in Rio Arriba County, would be able to halt the threat of development. "My bottom line is that these old growth pines will not be cut."
While walking the cutting unit, which seemed to be a healthy mix of large- and small-diameter trees with tall, underlying grass, one of the environmentalists pointed out a snag with a nest at the top that was identified as that of a goshawk, a threatened species. Apparently this nesting site was discovered after the Environmental Impact Statement was completed and was not identified in that document.
On our way out to visit the norteños gathering, Hitt met us at the security site and made an offer: If DeVargas and the others would agree to take down the effigies, he and some of the environmentalists would be willing to visit their campsite to discuss the issues informally. We delivered the message to De-Vargas, who immediately agreed to take down the dummies and said any of the environmentalists who wanted to come would be welcome. We then turned around and drove back to the environmentalists' security site and delivered the message to Hitt. An hour later about eight of the environmentalists arrived at the norteños camp, where Hitt, DeVargas, and some of the others, including Max Cordova, President of the Truchas Land Grant, sat in camp chairs and talked for about 45 minutes. While there was a lot of finger pointing, name calling and not much agreement on anything, once the more formal conversation between the two camps was over, Hitt and some of his fellow environmentalists stayed around and engaged in informal conversations with the rest of the norteños.
When La Jicarita later asked DeVargas if he thought the meeting had been worthwhile, he responded: "Actually, I thought it was productive. While we're only 16 days away from a settlement conference on the La Manga lawsuit, and it's too late to do anything on an informal level about that, I think it set the stage for some things that will come up in the future. And I think it was
important that Sam talked to some of the others here, not just me, a wild-eyed crazy activist, to see what even a two-month layoff means to working people. We know we have to diversify beyond just sawtimber, but until wehave the money to buy things like bent lamination equipment&emdash;let Sam put his money where his mouth is and buy it for us&emdash;we need to go to work."
As he has stated in previous interviews, he stressed that this whole break down could have been avoided if the environmentalists had agreed to release the La Manga sale, except for the 500 acres of old growth, and negotiate with the loggers on how to manage that, or trade it for another potential old growth area. As for Hitt's bottom line that no large trees should be cut, period, DeVargas responded that probably very few of the trees that Hitt pointed out to us would actually be harvested.
He reiterated that while it's too late for any negotiations on the La Manga sale outside the courtroom, he thinks it is still possible for these groups to form a coalition to discuss future issues: "Let's get together over a period of time so that we can work together to pressure the Forest Service. I still view the Forest Service as an army of occupation, occupying northern New Mexico with economic and political force rather than with guns. I'm harsher with them than I am with Sam. But he can no longer portray himself as David fighting Goliath, out to save the poor people against the corporate giant. He's now become Goliath."
La Jicarita: Our newspaper has written about La Jicarita Enterprise Community previously. Can you give us a brief description of how it is organized, funded, and what its main mission is.
Martinez: Basically, La Jicarita Enterprise Community is a federal government initiative, strongly supported by the president as part of his reinvention of government. The government has set aside a block grant of Title XX dollars. The Enterprise communities and the Empower-ment zones are two different programs for rural and urban communities. The Empowerment Zone received 40 million dollars for social and economic development. La Jicarita Enterprise Community received 2.95 million dollars. There are 30 Enterprise communities in the United States, and we were fortunate enough to get one of those designations. The main mission is to empower communities to make decisions for themselves and to start working for sustainability. The money is to stimulate that kind of activity within those communities.
La Jicarita: Who actually employs you?
Martinez: La Jicarita is composed of a board of directors representing three counties, Rio Arriba, Mora, and Taos. That board hired a staff of five, called the network management firm. The board is comprised of 12 representatives, four from each county, representing four different sectors. We have the educational sector, the for-profit sector, the nonprofit sector, and the public sector. From Taos County we have County Commissioner Gabriel Romero, Marcel Torres, chairman of the board, Rose Velasquez, representing for profit, and Nelson Lopez, who represents the educational sector.
La Jicarita: What projects are you working on in the Peñasco area?
Martinez: In the Peñasco area, our main mission is not to identify just one county or one specific community but work towards a concept of a new community. The projects we're identifying should have impacts not just for one specific area but for the entire community. We're looking at both social and economic projects, which range from educational opportunities to infrastructure building and for-profit ventures. Of the 2.95 million dollars we have been allocated, the bulk of it, 2.1 million dollars, has been specifically earmarked for for-profit, economic stimulus projects. So what we're looking at is creating networks of people who want to work together in nine specific for-profit ventures. These projects include agriculture, arts and crafts, classic period autos, recreation and tourism, manufacturing and construction, world-wide distribution, telecommunications, and media. For example, we could underwrite a construction project like a commercial greenhouse, which would create projects in three overlapping areas: construction, agribusiness, and distribution. We'll guarantee loans up to $230,000 to help start and stimulate these kinds of jobs and projects once we get the networks formed.
La Jicarita: Have you initiated any of these projects?
Martinez: We haven't actually funded any yet, but we've begun the process of trying to identify projects and key players within the nine project areas. The networking has begun. Board members of La Jicarita have been assigned as an organizing board for these nine companies. They in turn will be able to apply for the first infusion of dollars, which is about $25,000. That money is basically to help that company develop and organize themselves as a for-profit company. Hopefully, what will be created from that will be a project champion, someone who can take these ideas and concepts and develop them into a business plan. That person can then come back to La Jicarita, and we'll do analysis of it to determine if it's a solid business plan, and work with the small business development centers in Luna Votech and Northern New Mexico Community College. Creating that business plan is the crucial point in determining whether La Jicarita can infuse the remaining $200,000 into that project. We'll then help that company augment their plans by leading them towards other resources.
La Jicarita: Who in the community is involved in this right now?
Martinez: Opportunities are going to be made available for all strata of the community. We'll be looking at attracting the youth, senior citizens, individual business persons, as well as people collectively who want to work within the networks.
La Jicarita: What is your relationship with Peñasco Area Communities Association?
Martinez: We're partnering with individuals as well as organizations already in existence within the community. Our main function is as a network management firm, so we're trying to identify people who know specifically what the needs of the community are. PACA is a prime example of that. We're also working with the schools to do the same thing, as well as county planning. We've also been working with Americorp, a program which provides the opportunity for students to work within their communities as well as earn a small stipend and continue their education. Our Americorp student [Verna Gurule] is working specifically within the realm of water and issues related to water. We're looking at both the ground water and surface waters resources and acequia and domestic water association management. We've also received 1.5 million dollars for five domestic water systems&emdash;upgrading of tanks, looking at meters, increasing their water supply, etc.
La Jicarita: How can people get involved in the kinds of projects you've outlined?
Martinez: We have two offices, one here in Peñasco and one in Mora, and a network management person at each office. You can bring your idea or concept to that person and he will bring it to the staff and board, we'll do an analysis of it, and if we can fit it into the network, start channeling it that direction, and if not, we'll point them towards other resources. In Peñasco the project coordinator is Julio Rodarte for Taos County, who can be reached at 1-800-365-0074.
The PACA Solid Waste/Recycling Committee will meet Thursday, August 29, at 7:00 p.m. at the old theater building in Peñasco to discuss the grant it recently received from the Forest Service for a recycling project in our area. Everyone is welcome to attend.
A second meeting of mayordomos and acequia commissioners interested in forming a central acequia association has tentatively been scheduled for September 7 at 10 a.m. at La Jicariata Enterprise Community office (old bank building in Peñasco). Please call Verna Gurule for verification: 1-800-365-0074.
By Kay Matthews
On the evening of July 30, PACA (Peñasco Area Communities Association) met to present a draft document of the next step in developing a comprehensive land use plan for our area&emdash;the Action Steps. These are the steps that need to be taken to implement the Goals and Objectives (approved May 28 by PACA). Copies of the amended document, which will be submitted to the county, are available from any of the board members. At the meeting, two of the board members whose one-year terms had expired&emdash;Rosabel Corrales and Tim Davis&emdash;were reelected to the board. Two new members were elected: Margaret Rodarte and Larry Gottshau.
In the Action Steps document, seven goals are listed, which are subdivided into objectives and supported by action steps. Goal 1. states the desire to protect the rights of our communities. Under the objective of continuing our way of life, the action step calls for the designation of all our lands as "county rural open." Under the objective of maintaining individual communities while at the same time joining together for better communication, a second action step asks that the Taos County Sign Ordinance be amended so there are no controls of on-premise signs. This action step also calls for working with the Forest Service to make our homes and businesses safer from fire danger by supporting activities such as thinning, wood gathering, selective logging, and prescribed fire.
Goal 2. states the desire to have a healthier, more serene community. Included under this goal are steps to insure a safer community: better police protection and a youth curfew; improved judicial procedures; neighborhood watches in every community; improved roads; improved medical, dental, and ambulance services; improved fire protection; and improved public service as proposed by La Jicarita Enterprise Community (see article on page 5). To insure the objective of clean water, another action step calls for a federation of sewer and domestic water associations, improvement of ditches, and making use of the latest technology and funding opportunities to improve agricultural and domestic use of our water resources.
Goal 3. states the desire to conserve our natural resources by means of efficient use. To insure the objective of cleaner water, the action step calls for a federation of sewer and domestic water associations so that appropriate sewage treatment facilities can be implemented. Hook-ups to these facilities should be made affordable to residents. Erosion control measures should be encouraged, such as paving roads so proper drainage will prevent turbidity and pollution of rivers and streams.
Under the objective of affordable housing, a second action step calls for allowing mobile and manufactured homes without restrictions, and that financial institutions should make funding available for self-built homes. People should also be allowed to continue to build out houses, if necessary.
Another objective under Goal 3. is to protect our water rights. The action step calls for staying informed on water adjudication decisions, preserving and documenting the history of the area's acequias, educating ourselves about registering our water rights, maintaining control of our water resources with water banking, and forming a central acequia federation to share ideas and technology with regards to protecting our water.
Conservation of our water, air, and land is another objective under this goal. Action steps include (along with those previously listed pertaining to water) preserving irrigated lands by encouraging building on non-irrigated lands; improving irrigation ditches; providing educational programs that teach the history of our agriculture and irrigation practices; setting up programs to help people obtain and maintain cleaner wood burning stoves and using alternative fuel sources.
Action steps for the objective to improve community relations include: expanding PACA to become a parent organization for smaller community groups to more effectively coordinate community efforts and events; establishing a federation of acequia associations; developing a working relationship with La Jicarita Enterprise and government entities; establishing communications systems; and making better use of the media to keep communities informed.
Another objective under this goal is to maintain and preserve our cultural and historical resources. Action steps include implementing work study programs in the schools in coordination with the Ancianos, acequia associations, ranchers, and farmers; preserving our churches and moradas; helping preserve the acequia system by forming a federation; and insuring the better use of our forests.
The last objective under Goal 3. calls for improved waste management. Funding should be sought for community recycling centers, transfer stations need to maintain regular hours and improve their facilities, and there needs to be enforcement of littering controls.
Goal 4. calls for better representation in county government. Although there was dissenting discussion at the meeting about it, an action step was approved which calls for an increase in the number of Taos County Commissions from three (3) to five (5). Some people thought this might further dilute southeastern Taos County's input, while others felt it would insure that a Commissioner be elected from our area. A second action step calls for adequate notice of county and other government agencies with time for public input.
Goal 5. desires to protect our rights with improved education. The first action step would seek funding to support PACA endeavors; support the building of the Peñasco community center and establish office space in the center as a community resource; establish a communication network among local newspapers; and aid in coordinating community events. Another objective is to educate the community about the function of land use planning and zoning. Action steps include providing workshops with both county representatives and encouraging commentaries by local people in newspapers and on radio stations.
Goal 6. desires to improve our standard of living. Objectives are to improve job and business opportunities. Action steps include working with the Forest Service and other land management agencies to maintain sustained yield of all products and services that the lands can provide. Other objectives are to improve government relations and improve adult and child education. Action steps include making good use of our public school curriculum and buildings, the Peñasco community center, and the UNM Taos campus, while encouraging use of the Internet and coordination with La Jicarita Enterprise Community.
Goal 7. is to maintain a continuous planning process that remains open to future needs.
After the community members approved the Action Steps document, Jean Nichols presented an update on her work on PACA's Solid Waste/RecyclingCcommittee. Nichols had met the same day with Taos County and the Forest Service. The county agreed to make a better effort to insure that Sanco keeps the Chamisal transfer station open on a regular basis and anticipated that Sanco will start to upgrade the site by the first of August (digging trenches so that trash can be more easily deposited). Recycling should be initiated by October 15, and in anticipation of that, Nichols said that her group would begin construction of the ReUse building at the site by September 1. Until recycling is available in our area, people can drop off their recyclables (aluminum, tin, newspapers, cardboard, and brown glass) in Taos at the bins located at Walmart and Centinel Bank north. The town of Taos should have its recycling yard open by the end of August.
Nichols encouraged community members to attend the next Solid Waste/Recycling Committee meeting scheduled for the last Thursday in August (the 29th), at the old theater building in Peñasco, to provide further input on how the committee should spend some of the money received from its Forest Service grant.
The next PACA meeting (to be announced) will address the issue of how to improve ambulance service in the Peñasco areas well as land use plan issues.
Ike DeVargas says he's been forced out of work three times over the last two years. Sam Hitt has been hung in effigy twice. The La Manga timber sale lingers in federal court and a federal injunction still prevents all commercial logging in New Mexico and Arizona.
Isn't is time to move beyond the acrimony and legal machinations that are causing undue hardships for both norteños and environmentalists and wasting untold tax payer dollars to underwrite the Forest Service being constantly taken to court? Every time that agency releases a plan for a timber sale, a ski area expansion, or an improved recreation site, someone files an administrative appeal, usually with good cause, and ultimately, these appeals land both parties in court. While Ike DeVargas regards the Forest Service as an army of occupation, most environmentalists view it as a bureaucracy unreceptive to both progressive management techniques and the will of its constituents. The Forest Service in turn complains that it can't please everyone and it's directives for timber harvests levels and overall policy decisions come from Congress.
Well, that rationale doesn't work here in New Mexico. Because of our unique history, involving Indian and Hispanic land grants, national policy does not reflect the needs of local communities nor recognize the fragile nature of our semi-arid environment. And it's a cop-out for the local Forest Service districts to blame national policy when their staffs work within these communities and are intimately aware of the effects their decisions have upon both the people and forests of northern New Mexico. A decision like the one made allowing Santa Fe Ski Area to expand is really unconscionable: the rights of both Tesuque and Nambe pueblos as well as those of downstream acequia users are completely abrogated by the increased water use and land expansion of the ski area.
It's time for all the parties to be at the table, before these decisions are made, not after. In the past, the Forest Service has made token attempts to involve citizen
groups and local activists in its decision making process, sponsoring field trips to affected areas and work sessions for public input. In reality, they have repeatedly circumvented the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process by soliciting this input and then ignoring it when a final decision is made. If the Forest Service and
other government land management agencies are sincere in their desire to involve local citizens, Native Americans, land grant heirs, and other affected parties in their decision making process, and avoid the expense
and red tape of appeals, they must implement a policy which allows these groups and citizens substantive, binding input into the process.
As a first step in this direction, these agencies should begin a program to teach local people the skills necessary to draft environmental assessments and impact statements in coordination with the government agencies. Environmental groups, such as Forest Trust and Forest Guardians, should also bring their expertise to this process by giving holistic overviews of forest management and demonstrating the effects of innovative management techniques. Once an environmental assessment or impact statement is written, reflecting the needs of local communities while at the same time protecting forest resources, the land management agency must be bound to honor its terms and implement its decision.
We challenge the leadership of the Carson and Santa Fe national forests and the northern New Mexico Bureau of Land Management to respond to this editorial.
Copyright 1996-2001 La Jicarita Box 6 El Valle Route, Chamisal, New Mexico 87521.